Last week, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee enacted a new law that says that laws should be interpreted in a “natural and ordinary” way. What exactly does “natural and ordinary” mean? “Without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language” says the bill. Well, this interpretation could cause a lot of problems for many people in Tennessee.
First, it could undermine same-sex couples in any law that includes the words “husband, wife, mother, or father,” and therefore puts LGBT parents at risk of having their parental rights or marriage rights taken away. It could prevent same-sex couples from having both of their names on a child’s birth certificate.
Such a law could undermine a transgender person’s true identity, as well as strip protections from women or gender non-conforming identities when laws refer to all people as “men.”
Four lesbian couples are not going to stand by and find out if their parental rights will be taken away. Attorney Julie Tate-Keith filed a lawsuit against Tennessee last week on behalf of married couples Charitey and Heather Mackenzie, Crystal Dawn and Terra Mears, Elizabeth and Heather Broadaway, and Emilie and Kathrine Guthrie, all of whom are expecting babies in the fall.
Governor Haslam has assured his constituents that the law will not harm LGBT people:
“While I understand the concerns raised about this bill, the Obergefell decision is the law of the land, and this legislation does not change a principle relied upon by the courts for more than a century, mitigating the substantive impact of this legislation,” the Governor said in a statement.
Conservative Christian groups, however, have praised it for its ability to allow judges to do the exact opposite of what Haslam has said, and not redefine “husband and wife” as “spouses.”
HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said the legislation was “opening a Pandora’s box of harmful consequences that could impact more than just the LGBTQ community.”
Vice president of programs for GLAAD, Zeke Stokes, added, “By the stroke of a pen, Gov. Haslam has now placed the future of the state’s economy and the well-being of the LGBTQ community in jeopardy.”
“(The law) has the potential to undermine marriages between LGBTQ couples, nullify a transgender person’s true identity under law, and put LGBTQ families at risk,” they added.